There’s always a break in the rain

Life is the worst
Listen to me, I’m a philosopher
Love, that’s a trap
Responsibility, that’s a trap
Like a father to a son, I tell you this
Life is full of horror, nobody escapes, nobody, save yourself
Whatever pulls from you
Whatever needs from you
Threatens you
Learn at least this
What you are capable of, let nothing stand in your way

– Al Pacino in “Angels in America”

I have a love/hate relationship with the winter and December. But there is a beauty in the bareness that only animals with great noses are lucky to know; like the whiff of both orange trees that grow in the winter in my neighbors’ yards, and the smell of eucalyptus that wafts up on the wings of crows and ravens chasing away a hawk. If you look up waft, “to cause to move or go lightly by or as if by the impulse of wind or waves,” I think it’s very unlike the dictionary to have such a poet’s definition, and I am pleased.

My backyard, in all its commonness, is a place of ever-changing weather and an attack on the senses. The shapes and dreams from my childhood still live in the clouds – the bunnies, big hands, sweet pink cumulus, and the smells; coldness, wetness, darkness, sadness, and the thoughts the sun-smell brings. I’m reminded of the taste of carrots and vinegar, tomatoes and salt, all on the porch of a sunny day.

I spent time with my dying family this season. My sister, the caregiver, and my mother, having less and less to look forward to. The bitterness of the unthoughtful gift from my brother, and the brief visit that consummated in the long nap during the car ride home while my mate navigated his way with the company of 70s on 7.

Unlike letting mother nature move us and do its thing, we as humans are expected to navigate our human landscapes by how we want to live our lives as individuals. I had the sudden realization that, when there is a break in the rain, you have to seize the opportunity for another kind of life, happiness, and interpretation within the clouds around you.

Once again

“At a certain point in your life, probably when too much of it has gone by, you will open your eyes, and see yourself for who you are, especially for everything that made you so different from all the awful normals. And you will say to yourself, but I am this person, and it that statement, there will be a kind of love.” – Phoebe in Wonderland

Shades of red and purple are vibrant at twilight. A lone dandelion rises up where the unsuccessful hydrangea once was, and a succulent moss grows up around the cheap sprinkler I used maybe once. There’s a lot of this in my backyard; a planter box held together only by the old soil within it, a makeshift wire trellis that nothing climbs up, and an odd little gate that leads to a steep fall onto concrete if you don’t watch your step.

I tied up the grape vines today. The mix I planted to attract hummingbirds and butterflies finally started to bloom beneath the mass of the vine’s tendrils; lovely yellow and magenta flowers among the grass and other weeds. So tiny and delicate you want only to cradle them between your fingers; but inches away without touching the fragile petals. I seek to connect with respect, and nature has its own, unspoken, boundaries. This is a peaceful time for me, until the wind or rain chases me inside again, and to my books.

On lazy days like today, I have tasked myself to make my way through some natural classics: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Loren Eisley’s Desert Solitaire, and the idyll that is anything by Gerald Durrell. Most recently I stumbled upon another author I had not heard of, Edwin Way Teale (1899-1980).

This is what happens when you open your heart and keep your eyes open, I said to myself.

According to one review, Teale expressed “the simple enjoyment of universal nature, with no other end in mind” (Wandering Through Winter), and “on this somber day, when winter’s conquest seems so imminent and so conclusive, I am remembering the calm preparations of the insects around me. Nature, in all her acts, reflects her faith in the future.”

Finally, someone just like me, someone with no other end in mind than to enjoy nature and have faith in the future.

Seagulls

“Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding.” – Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach

Last Friday I had a meeting near the ocean, bright and early. I always think it’s going to take me a while to get there, but it never does, and on this particular morning it was no different. This is a meeting with myself, to talk with the birds and to take it down a notch, so to speak.

Sometimes when I’m down by the sea I buy some bread and I feed it to the seagulls. They all descend at once, some watching and waiting cautiously from the rocks, others bold enough to snatch the bread just near my feet, where the opportunistic pigeons are getting in on the action. I always coo at them with my favorite sweet nothing of the day, rehearsal I’m sure for the day I’m a crazy old woman. A man in the parking lot of the nearby restaurant snaps my picture.

I take a deep breath and intently watch the gulls. I love how their yellow and black eyes contrast beautifully against the feathers on their head. Most, I assume, are California Gulls (Larus Californicus). In my limited research on gulls, however, I’m sure these gulls’ plumage changes, depending on the season, so I could be surrounded by a melting pot. I know I have seen Heermann’s Gulls (Larus Heermanni) on the shores of Monterey.

I remind myself to bring my camera next time, to take some pictures and put some names with some beaks.

Larus Heermanni

Water and the beauty of spring

American Goldfinch, male on left, female on right
American Goldfinch, male on left, female on right

“In an age when man has forgotten his origins and is blind even to his most essential needs for survival, water along with other resources has become the victim of his indifference.” — Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

I greet the spring days with joy and some civility. I suffer from S.A.D., and do not enjoy days when it’s cloudy and rainy. On days like this I sit at my back window and watch the gulls playing in the wind and the lone mourning dove bracing itself against the slanting rain. In my sadness, however, I see the beauty in “weather,” the billowing clouds, the swaying eucalyptus, and the water we so desperately need.

What’s odd is that I don’t wish for water for myself. I wish it for the annual visit of the American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) at my feeder, and the California Towhee (Pipilo crissalis) that waits for the rain to make the worms available. It’s a wonderful thing to see the C.Towhee skirt along the ground and under the jasmine in the back of our yard. I sometimes I imagine I am Mistress Mary as I peek under the plant, hoping for a glimpse of a Towhee or its family.

I never happen upon a bird under the jasmine, but there must be something fascinating under alot of things, if we look a little closer; the bright pink Camellias on the ground, the Lilac tree relegated to its space behind the evergreen, and the field mouse that has made its house somewhere in the planter near the gazebo. Let us not forget these treasures, it is what keeps us young and curious.

Love

Today I was feeling very happy. Recently, a kind, gentle person from Iowa contacted me and told me that she would like to use some posts from my blog to teach her nature writing class. For a while, this filled me with love, and not to mention a longing to visit Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Truth be told, I still feel that love, and probably will for a while.

That is how it is with me, that when someone cherishes me for something I did that was born of passion, I tend to feel love, and loved. It’s something I secretly cling to, and long for more of.

And it got me to thinking about love: who I love, and what love is.

Today I learned that someone I deeply love had to experience death and the possible dissolution of their marriage, all in a span of ten days. I ached. I felt a pain in my heart that was not unlike yearning, but I felt a little more lost, and more unsure. It was like peering into space with the feeling that if you didn’t hold on, you might go into a black hole.

In times like these, I like to turn to animals for a lesson. What can animals teach me about love, and loss.

For some reason, when I think of love, I think of last Halloween, when my Greyhound, Jack, plucked a eastern grey squirrel from the Catalpa tree in our backyard, broke its neck, and proceeded to eat it. I shouted “Jack! No! Leave it!” Not only until I pinched his ear did he drop it. His body shook in a primeval way, and I could see he hurt from not only from me pinching his ear but from my disappointment.

I stood on my porch, in the rain, looking at the unbrushed lower teeth and gentle paws of the dead squirrel on my steps, and all I could do is be present with my feelings, that somehow I was responsible for its death. I was hyper-aware of the temperature, the cloudy sky, and my breath as I wondered how to best deal with Rocky. The odd thing is that I never felt more alive, even in death.

This is how it is to be in love, when you experience life without any filters. It’s also when you can let go of expectations and perfection, and learn to enjoy your backyard, even in the driest of winters.

Robin
Robin

Locking up the earth

When I’m feeling spacious and anxious and weird I like to listen to a song called “De Usuahia a la Quiaca” by Gustavo Santaolalla. It’s a track from a movie called “The Motorcycle Diaries.” When I listen to it I imagine I am Che Guevara riding his bike through the desert, dirty and alone, on the verge of transformation.

I imagine that I am Frida Kahlo, a wild, beautiful girl with many lovers, male and female.

Mostly I imagine that I am free.

At wildlife rescue tonight I was offered a little piece of heaven, of freedom. In a mock aviary in the back of the rescue sits five cliff swallows, juveniles. Tonight they were flying around the aviary, landing on the little rope perches, begging for the mealworms I had for them. But the most amazing thing about them was the sound they made as they flew circles around me. The beating of their wings sounded like the flight of fairies entering your dreams at night (like the sound you make when you sigh and it has to pass through your teeth and lips before it leaves your body – only lighter). I had the feeling I was witnessing something magical. I felt as if they were not of this earth, these dark birds with their intense eyes — and they lifted my spirit into another realm. I felt as if I had entered another world when I entered that aviary, and was blessed by the swallow fairies that inhabited it.

When we care for the animals at the wildlife rescue we are temporarily locking up the essence of the earth while we tend to its wounded citizens. You can hear the essence in the beating of birds’ wings, you can smell it in the breath of a night heron who has just eaten smelt, you can feel it in the oil and dirt that passes from feather to finger.

And you wonder where your essence has gone, your wildness. You think back to the time when you smiled easily and the wind and dirt were your friends. These birds are this essence every day, even locked up in a little aviary.

Tonight I was shift supervisor. I had to make sure that all the birds and mammals got their feedings, got their meds, little bird foot casts, cream on a snake’s back. Dishes washed, lights turned out…alarm set. Now, when someone else has this role I think nothing of it. But when you are given this responsibility and you lock 20 wild animals into a small house at night the weight of the world sits on your shoulders. You are, for a night, a shepherd of the earth and its wounded citizens, and only your heart can guard them as you fall into bed.

Staying out of step

So strange to emerge from my sleep, like a phoenix rising or the tunneling out of a Cicada after a long, luxurious, 17-year supper. What focus, what determination, to emerge and accomplish your goal, only to have to begin over and over again. It’s endless, why fight it? You can’t plan these things.

You see, it doesn’t matter what I write, as long as I write. Getting my thoughts out of my head onto virtual paper is a necessity, a diversion from the day-in/day-out of corporate nonsense.

It’s where we really live, really, in our own heads, not in this world. We are but burrowing insects, waiting for the right time to emerge, to strike, to get what we want. Yet most creative minds want to be out of step with the rest of the world. It pains us to be like everyone else, and there are so many like us. I am speaking in a non-linear fashion, but sometimes that is the only way to speak, in a tongue all your own. I have read much more obtuse prose, believe you me. I guess what I’m trying to say is that keeping out of step is more interesting, greater things happen between the lines.

The Cicadas have been on my mind, as their 17-year slumber party is over as they descend upon the midwest. Gone are the nights of sucking on sweet tree candy and dreaming of the sun. Now is the only chance in their little lives to make love and procreate. I think I would wake up for that too but that’s another story altogether that might blow the endoplasm of most single-celled organisms.

After the female Cicada is lured by the lilting song of the male, they mate, and she deposits her eggs in the slit of a twig. She deposits hundreds of eggs — and soon after she dies, as do the males. When the eggs hatch, the newborns drop to the ground, where they burrow and start another cycle. The Magicicada Cicada goes through a 13- or even a 17-year life cycle. These long cycles are so they can avoid predators such as the cicada killer wasp and the praying mantis. You see, these years are prime numbers, so while a Cicada with a 15-year life cycle could be preyed upon by a predator with a 3- or 5-year life cycle, the prime cycles allow them to stop the predators from falling into step. When did this begin? What year? How did they reset? What a wonderful story of survival of the fittest, what a creative way of staying ahead of the lemmings.